Rabbi Sydni's Shabbat Sermons
פרשת וירא, תש״פ
Parshat Vayeira, 5780
by Rabbi Sydni
Saturday, November 16th, 2019
At 5:53 tomorrow evening, Rabbi Feivel and I will commemorate the end of Shabbat as we walk over to University Elementary for our first experience as Louisiana voters! As I imagine casting my vote now, I hear God’s words ringing in my ears: “I have singled Abraham out, that he may instruct his children and his household after him to keep the way of Adonai by doing what is just and righteous…” (Exodus 12:49) - tz’dakah u’mishpat. I see the image in my head of my teacher, Rabbi Dr. Meesh Hammer-Kossoy, standing on a table in a Jerusalem classroom and shouting, “Tzedek u’mishpat! That’s all Judaism is! Tzedek u’mishpat!” I know it can be hard to just get up and be inspired to do a mitzvah, but tomorrow, it’s easy. We have a scheduled date by which to show our affinity for tzedek u’mishpat, justice and righteousness. The way our government runs affects our state-wide equality in judgment and opportunity, and we have the power and responsibility to affect that equality. By voting tomorrow, we are helping our ancestor Abraham to fulfill the mitzvah he was given - to keep the way of Adonai through our actions of tzedek u’mishpat.
Even if we can read justice and righteousness as amalgamous terms, our tradition gives us specific commandments that beg us to take part in this state-wide election of November 2019. As we are told throughout the book of Deuteronomy to be discerning in judgment, not to favor the poor or the rich, the great or the small, our candidates for governor are tackling criminal justice reform in their own unique fashions. Our candidates for Secretary of State have their own priorities with regards to bringing disenfranchised voters to the polls; they have their own agendas with regards to Louisiana’s new voting machines. When we vote in this election, we have a direct hand in the way judgment works here in Louisiana.
While money can be the root of all evil, our candidates have presented different ways in which money can also feed, nourish, and educate. In the book of Deuteronomy, when God tells the people Israel that there shall be no poor people in our midst, God charges us to build societies that fit such a commandment. Tomorrow, we have the chance to vote for the state of our society’s minimum wages, job availability, and education, all of which can bring us towards that idealistic, zero-poverty community. Tomorrow, we have the opportunity to embrace our sacred value of pikuah nefesh, saving a life over all else, by voting for the candidate we believe has the best health care game plan for Louisianans from all walks of life. And tomorrow, we have the ability to embody one of our first-ever commands as humankind, to watch over this earth we inhabit and to protect the plants and animals within it. As a direct result of the decisions we make tomorrow, our tax dollars may or may not contribute to vital coastal restoration projects. In a world in which we no longer cancel all debts every seven years, save the corners of our fields for those who need to eat, or go door to door collecting enough funds to feed all those in need, one crucial way in which we put our money where our mouths are is by showing up to vote.
In our parshah, God consults Abraham before he finalizes his decision to destroy S’dom and Amorah, as God knows that a leadership based in justice and righteousness requires a multitude of voices. All of us who are here in synagogue today are demonstrating with our time and presence that we care about our relationship with God and community. But we must keep in mind that our presence at synagogue is not enough; we must keep in mind God’s teachings through Isaiah. God screams in the voice of God’s prophet:
Bringing sacrifices is futile, incense is offensive to Me. New moons and sabbath, proclaiming of solemnities, assemblies with iniquity, I cannot abide. Your new moons and fixed seasons fill me with loathing. [...] Cease to do evil; learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan. Defend the cause of the widow. (Isaiah 1:13-18)
God does not want our worship or ritual practice if they do not lead to an urge to fight for a just society. We are here, in this prayer space, not just to meet with friends, not just to praise God, but to inspire ourselves to take responsibility in the world around us.
If you haven’t voted yet, the polls are open until 8:00 p.m. tomorrow. If you don’t have transportation, Uber offers free rides to and from your polling location. If you need more information about amendments and candidates, geauxvote.com has it all, and I would guess that there are several people in this room who would be happy to share their thoughts on the issues. Now you have no more excuses - Geaux Vote and do your part in creating a world of tzedek u’mishpat!